Marine and Freshwater Research Marine and Freshwater Research Society
Advances in the aquatic sciences
RESEARCH ARTICLE

Large-scale dieback of mangroves in Australia’s Gulf of Carpentaria: a severe ecosystem response, coincidental with an unusually extreme weather event

Norman C. Duke A F , John M. Kovacs B , Anthony D. Griffiths C , Luke Preece D , Duncan J. E. Hill B , Penny van Oosterzee D E , Jock Mackenzie A , Hailey S. Morning B and Damien Burrows A

A TropWATER Centre, James Cook University, Townsville, Qld 4811, Australia.

B Department of Geography, Nipissing University, 100 College Drive, North Bay, ON, P1B 8L7, Canada.

C Flora and Fauna Division, Department of Land Resource Management, CSIRO Complex, 564 Vanderlin Drive, Berrimah, PO Box 496, Palmerston, NT 0831, Australia.

D TESS (Centre for Tropical Environment and Sustainability Sciences), James Cook University, Cairns, Qld 4870, Australia.

E BIOME5 Pty Ltd, PO Box 1200 Atherton, Qld 4883, Australia.

F Corresponding author. Email: norman.duke@jcu.edu.au

Marine and Freshwater Research - https://doi.org/10.1071/MF16322
Submitted: 19 September 2016  Accepted: 19 December 2016   Published online: 14 March 2017

Abstract

This study records and documents the most severe and notable instance ever reported of sudden and widespread dieback of mangrove vegetation. Between late 2015 and early 2016, extensive areas of mangrove tidal wetland vegetation died back along 1000 km of the shoreline of Australia’s remote Gulf of Carpentaria. The cause is not fully explained, but the timing was coincident with an extreme weather event; notably one of high temperatures and low precipitation lacking storm winds. The dieback was severe and widespread, affecting more than 7400 ha or 6% of mangrove vegetation in the affected area from Roper River estuary in the Northern Territory, east to Karumba in Queensland. At the time, there was an unusually lengthy period of severe drought conditions, unprecedented high temperatures and a temporary drop in sea level. Although consequential moisture stress appears to have contributed to the cause, this occurrence was further coincidental with heat-stressed coral bleaching. This article describes the effect and diagnostic features of this severe dieback event in the Gulf, and considers potential causal factors.

Additional keywords: mangrove forests, plant–climate interactions, tidal wetlands.


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